"If we focus on Christ and his birth, our household rituals will draw us to the light of his coming."
Christmas Eve Rituals
What do you do on Christmas Eve? Perhaps some combination of church, dinner, and preparing for Christmas Day? Last year, my outlook changed because of two books: 1) All Through the Day, All Through the Year by David B. Batchelder, and 2) To Dance with God, Family Ritual and Community Celebration by Gertrud Mueller Nelson. These books describe the importance of small, reverent, at-home rituals to celebrate holidays.
Keeping things simple and reverent on Christmas Eve can be a challenge. But here are five ideas from the aforementioned books, along with my traditions at home. Of course, what works for one household may not work for another. The overall idea is to make some time and space to focus on Christ's birth and the light it brings us.
1. Light the Advent Wreath and Christ Candle
Christmas Eve is a wonderful time to light all the candles of the Advent wreath, including a 'Christ candle' which is placed in the middle of the wreath. For a prayer to say while lighting the wreath on Christmas Eve, consider this collect from the Book of Common Prayer:
O God, you have caused this holy night to shine
with the brightness of the true Light: Grant that we,
who have known the mystery of that Light on earth,
may also enjoy him perfectly in heaven;
where with you and the Holy Spirit he lives and reigns,
one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
2. Read the Bible Story of Jesus' Birth
For this ritual, it helps to plan ahead and have the Bible open and ready. Place the Bible near the Christmas tree or creche, in a room where everyone can gather to hear the story from Luke 2. An older child might have the honor of being the reader.
3. Bless the Nativity Creche and Christmas Tree
Following the Bible reading, the story can come alive through the creche scene. Perhaps each figure is picked up and re-placed in the nativity scene: "And then the shepherds – here they are – came to Bethlehem, just as the angel had told them." To bless the creche and tree, consider the following prayers, by David B. Batchelder and Gertrud Mueller Nelson respectively.
Marvelous God who fills this night with wonder,
We have arrived to welcome Jesus’ birth.
With cattle and shepherds we honor your gift.
May his presence warm our hearts
with tenderness enough for everyone we meet.
And keep us always in your joy. Amen.
O God, who, in the midst of this holy night,
did send your Word to dwell amongst us and be our true light,
bless this tree, we ask you, which we have hung with signs of your creation and with lights.
Let it remind all of us who behold it this season of the mystery of his flesh-taking
and may we be ingrafted as living branches into the same Lord Jesus,
who lives and reigns with you now and forever. Amen.
4. Sing an Easy Christmas Song
After blessing the creche and tree, a household might close the ritual by singing a song. Pick something simple that can be learned by heart and sung by the whole household. At our house, with our young children we like "The Friendly Beasts" (video). For older children or teens a good choice might be "Silent Night."
5. Enjoy a Simple Dinner Meal
I like to prepare a special pre-dinner plate for each family member – last year I arrived home from church before the others to get it ready. Each plate had dried figs, dates, a clementine, and a few chocolate pieces. We ate these treats while lighting the Advent wreath.
Dinner itself is something simple, like soup and bread. Again, inspiration from the books by David and Gertrud: they recommend food that can be made ahead and kept warm without much fuss in the kitchen. This allows the household to concentrate on the warmth and closeness of the rituals. For a prayer before the meal, consider David's below:
Jesus our Savior, You are welcome here.
With animals and angels we sing your praise.
Fill us with joy for your gifts of love,
given to all who hunger and thirst for your salvation.
Warm our table with your presence
that this meal may be a taste of all good things to come.
Through Jesus Christ, the light of the world. Amen.
Stretch But Don't Stress
For me, this will be our third year incorporating all of the rituals above – so I am no expert! But I like the way these ideas have stretched me. Though I have celebrated Christmas all my life, the rituals made me rethink priorities, change some old habits, and plan ahead for a special evening.
Stress however, should not be part of the equation – Christmas Eve is not about 'getting it right,' or comparing ourselves to others. Indeed, God already 'got it right' two thousand years ago. If we focus on Christ and his birth, our household rituals will draw us to the light of his coming.
The books I mentioned are below. The first is still in print, while the second is available used.
To Dance with God, Family Ritual and Community Celebration by Gertrud Mueller Nelson (Paulist Press, 1986).
All Through the Day, All Through the Year by David B. Batchelder (Augsburg Books, 2000).
Matthew Kozlowski manages, edits, and writes for Building Faith. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia with his wife Danielle and two young daughters. Throughout his career he has been a teacher, camp counselor, school chaplain, camp chaplain, Sunday school teacher, parish priest, and Alpha coordinator.